A Deserving Winner, And A Nobel Cause

This morning the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to its youngest winner ever — Malala Yousafzai, a 17-year-old woman from Pakistan.  She and Kailash Satyarthi of India received the Prize for their work to advance the rights of children and promote universal schooling.

Many selections of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee have been controversial — often they are criticized as highly politicized attempts to direct public discourse, rather than recognize true achievements in promoting peace — and even this award had an apparent political message.  The Committee Chairman said: “The Nobel Committee regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism.”

Regardless of the political overtones, this time the Committee made a very worthy choice.  Yousafzai’s compelling personal story, and her courageous crusade for education, have been an inspiration to millions across the world.   Ever since she overcame being shot for resisting Taliban edicts that barred girls from going to school and bravely continued to advocate — peacefully — for the advancement and schooling of girls, Yousafzai has been a living example of everything the Nobel Peace Prize is supposed to represent.

There is something important in the fact that Yousafzai is the youngest-ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, too.  A 15-year-old girl who is threatened, bullied, and then shot by religious extremists would seem to be powerless, but Yousafzai proved that perceptions of power can be wrong.  Individuals, young and old, can make a difference.

Malala Yousafzai And The Power Of The Individual

You can’t help but be inspired by Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani woman who resisted Taliban edicts that forbade girls from going to school. Now 16 years old, Yousafzai is a living, breathing example of the unique power of the individual to serve as an agent of change.

Yousafzai’s story reminds us of how different the world can be under repressive religious regimes.  When she started a blog and advocated for education for Muslim girls in defiance of the edicts, the Taliban issued a death threat against her.  Later a Taliban gunman attacked her on her school bus, and she was shot in the head and neck.  She survived, went to Great Britain for brain surgery, and continues to be a strong voice for education even in the face of renewed Taliban threats.

This past week Yousafzai made a whirlwind tour of the United States.  She met President Obama, the First Lady, and their 15-year-old daughter Malia, thanked him for the United States’ support of education, but also expressed the view that U.S. drone attacks are fueling terrorism.  Yousafzai also deeply impressed Jon Stewart and the audience of The Daily Show by her patient insistence that violence and cruelty can only be defeated by education and peaceful dialogue.

Some people thought Yousafzai might win the Nobel Peace Prize.  Instead the Prize went to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.  I have no doubt that the group, which has worked to eliminate chemical weapons, has performed important work — but no organization can ever have the impact of one individual standing resolute in the face of tyranny.  Malala Yousafzai has single-handedly focused attention on the need for education and the plight of girls and young women under the Taliban and, by extension, in other places where religious edicts and despotic governments have repressed their rights and freedoms.  We can only hope that her message and example will ultimately bring about essential social changes in the benighted regions of the world.


Time To Hire A New Press Secretary

On Friday, President Obama released a statement about the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.  It comes from the Office of the Press Secretary, and to put it mildly it is not one of the White House’s best efforts.

The three-paragraph statement begins by reminding everyone that President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, notes that the award has been “claimed by giants of history and courageous advocates who have sacrificed for freedom and justice,” and then modestly states that Liu Xiaobo is “far more deserving of this award” than the President was.  The statement notes, in its last paragraph, that “Mr. Liu reminds us that human dignity also depends upon the advance of democracy, open society, and the rule of law” and that the “values he espouses are universal, his struggle is peaceful, and he should be released as soon as possible.”

I don’t for a minute believe that President Obama had anything to do with crafting this statement or even saw it before it was released.  He is much too savvy a politician to write a statement that plays directly into a persistent theme of his opponents — namely, that the President is arrogant, egotistical, and mostly interested in himself.  There was no need for the President to remind people that he won the Nobel Peace Prize last year; that context could be provided by the news media in case anyone has forgotten.  Nor should the President unthinkingly be placing himself among purported “giants of history and courageous advocates who have sacrificed for freedom and justice.”

This is a situation where the President needs to rely on his staff.  In this instance his staff clearly let him down, and he has sustained a self-inflicted wound as a result.  I would guess that the statement was written by some junior speechwriter who thought, wrongly, that it would be a good idea to give a currently embattled President some props for winning the Nobel Peace Prize.  But wasn’t this statement read by Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, or some other more senior White House aide?  Or do they think the American people want a President who reminds them of his receipt of an award that many thought was awarded as a political statement rather than on merit, when he should, instead, be focusing exclusively on the specific activities of the courageous activist who has been awarded the Peace Prize this year for work that has nothing whatsoever to do with President Obama?

Eyes On The Prize (Cont.)

President Obama soon will be leaving for Norway to give his speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize.  According to this article, Norwegians are upset because he has cancelled a number of the events traditionally attended by the Peace Prize winner, including a lunch with Norway’s King.  I wonder if, perhaps, the President cancelled some of the events because he just did not think it would be politically helpful to be seen on TV back in the States attending function after function in Norway, all in relation to accepting a Prize that many people believe he did not really deserve?

I am sure that the President’s acceptance speech will be carefully analyzed.  Apparently he is going to tackle, head on, the irony some people see in his acceptance of the Peace Prize only days after announcing that he was going to send more troops to Afghanistan.  I think he should do so, and I think in that regard he should point out that, occasionally, peace must be achieved by standing firm and fighting those who have an insatiable appetite for conquest, for death and destruction, or for trampling on the human rights of others.  Many tried to negotiate with Adolf Hitler without success; peace in Europe ultimately was achieved only at the point of a sword.

I also think the President would do himself a favor by not criticizing his predecessor or, once again, suggesting that he has brought new enlightenment to a benighted United States of America.  Such criticisms seem motivated solely by a desire to obtain some kind of domestic political advantage by constantly making comparisons to a President who was tremendously unpopular at the end of his term.  I agree with the old adage, however, that politics should end at the water’s edge.  I think it seems small for the Obama Administration to constantly belittle the efforts of the Bush Administration.  Equally important, I question whether boasting about the policy changes that have occurred is a good foreign policy technique.  Foreign policy is supposed to reflect a country’s national interests, and those interests really should not change dramatically even if voters have decided to replace the party in power.  Do we really want foreign governments to think that a change in Administration will cause American foreign policy to swing like a pendulum?  Won’t that encourage foreign governments who disagree with our policy to either meddle in our political affairs or wait out the current Administration, in hopes that voters will replace it with one that will develop a new policy that is more palatable?

Roman Polanski, David Letterman, and The Nobel Peace Prize

Here’s an interesting article on how the Roman Polanski and David Letterman episodes and the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama have undercut the political credibility of Hollywood and the Nobel awards committee.

I agree that the Nobel Peace Prize has been discredited by this award and prior overtly political awards, but I’m not sure that Americans really paid much attention to it, anyway.  I think the Polanski and Letterman episodes probably will have more long-term impact because TV and movies are such important cultural forces in America.  The Polanski and Letterman episodes reveal the Hollywood types who mount a soapbox to espouse liberal dogma as hypocrites who will readily circle the wagons and excuse the obvious misdeeds of those within their circle — and argue that “artistic” contributions should trump the law and normal moral and ethical behavior.  I find it unimaginable that anyone could defend Roman Polanski’s rape of a 13-year-old or Letterman’s philandering with employees, and I think many other people share that view.  The next time Whoopi Goldberg or some other Hollywood type attempts to lecture Americans on how we should think, vote, or conduct our affairs, I think Americans will remember her tartuffery and ignore what they have to say.

Eyes On The Prize

Congratulations to President Obama on winning the Nobel Peace Prize.  I’m not sure that our humble blog can add much to what has already been said about this surprising announcement.  Richard thinks it is a good thing to reward someone who has announced that his Administration will be different from the last in terms of commitment to dialogue, collective action through the United Nations, and multilateralism.  I, on the other hand, am a bit suspicious that the award is not so much a tribute to President Obama as it is another slap to President Bush by the European community.

Politically, I am not sure what this means for President Obama.  I think it is not necessarily a bad thing for an American President to be popular with the citizens of other countries, but the question is: popular for what?  Winning the Nobel Peace Prize 9 months into your Administration, without a concrete peace-related accomplishment to your name, seems bizarre.  The stated reason for the award seems to be that it is aspirational and intended to be inspirational — that is, an effort by the awards committee to push American policy in a particular direction.  I hope President Obama does not let the award influence his decision-making on matters of American national interest, like how we should proceed in Afghanistan.  Those decisions should be based on a hard-headed assessment of American interests, not on concerns about the perceptions or interests of a Scandinavian committee.